Note (12.3.13): For details of the legal challenge to the bedroom tax on behalf of two disabled adults, see http://wearespartacus.org.uk/disabled-mount-legal-challenge-bedroom-tax/ and for full information and further links see http://wearespartacus.org.uk/bedroom-tax/
In April 2013 the new under-occupancy rules will come into force for tenants in the social rented sector (SRS) who claim housing benefit. This is meant to bring entitlement to housing benefit for social housing tenants into line with the entitlement for tenants in the private rented sector (PRS). Despite the many differences between the two tenures, and the fact that most under-occupying SRS tenants are living in the same homes in which they have brought up their families, ’market forces’ are to be imposed and tenants are being warned that they will have to pay a percentage of their rent for each extra room they are deemed to be under-occupying: 14% for one bedroom, 25% for two. In real terms this could be anything from £14 to £40 per week.
The Government have admitted that they know there are not enough smaller properties within the SRS to enable people to downsize – in contrast to provision in the under-regulated PRS where there is an abundance of (expensive) choice. They know that any saving for the nation’s housing benefit bill depends, paradoxically, upon people not moving, staying put and ‘absorbing’ the benefit cut. Indeed, if everyone downsized to the PRS, the housing benefit bill would be substantially higher. They claim the change will incentivise people to work. But they also know, as made clear by the DWP’s own Equality Impact Assessment, that over two-thirds of the households affected include a tenant with a long-term illness or disability.
Despite fierce lobbying by all interested organisations for an exemption from the benefit cut for people in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (Support group) and/or Disability Living Allowance/Personal Independence Payment, the only current exemption is for a minority of tenants who can prove they require constant overnight care. For everyone else the ‘tax’ (benefit cut) takes immediate effect on 1 April 2013. Those affected include: people who may already have significant adaptations (some paid for out of their own pocket), or who may be on the long waiting list for adaptations, or who may only need ‘occasional’ overnight care, or who may need an extra room for bulky medical equipment, or couples who need separate rooms due to disability or health difficulties, or people with mental health conditions such as agoraphobia, or people with degenerative conditions who may soon need that extra room for a carer but not quite yet, or people who will end up in residential care if they have to move away from formal and informal care networks, or people with cancer, lung disease, liver disease or other life-limiting illnesses who cannot face the added upheaval of moving house at the worst time of their life, or sick and disabled people whose home has become their whole world; all will face a cut in housing benefit and risk rent arrears.
Disabled people have to cope with benefit reductions and higher costs all the time, but this cut is somewhat different, as rent simply has to be paid, no matter what, to avoid arrears.
This policy has never really been about sorting out the housing crisis; housing associations have long-established routes to assist people to downsize. The current shortage of properties means the downsizing programme will take years to accomplish, with or without the benefit cut. Tenants are being penalised for a situation not of their making. An exemption from the bedroom tax for sick and disabled people - those in receipt of DLA/PIP and ESA (Support group) – would require relinquishing 300 million of the expected housing benefit saving. To put that into perspective, 300 million is equivalent to the current total Housing Benefit bill for just over half a week.
The Government’s response to these arguments is to say that disabled people can apply for discretionary housing payments (DHP’s). Local authorities are to be given extra money specifically to help disabled people whose homes have been significantly adapted – and by significantly adapted, they have said they mean specifically for wheelchair users. However, these payments are discretionary; there is no right of appeal if a payment is not awarded, and although payments may be awarded for an indefinite period, it is more common for discretionary housing payments to be awarded for limited periods, often 12 weeks. It is particularly important to note that, despite increased funding from the Government (intended to help only those in homes which have been adapted for a wheelchair user), there will be no funds to help most of the 420,000 disabled people affected by the under-occupancy rules. So this proposed ‘solution’ provides no security of accommodation for disabled people, who need that security the most.
In the recent debate in the Lords’ Grand Committee, one Peer said he wished he’d realised the ‘bedroom tax’ was such a significant disability issue during the initial passage of the Welfare Reform Bill through Parliament. Let’s not let them forget that it still is.
Sue McCafferty produced a briefing (‘Closing the Door on the Law’) on this topic for recent committee debates on the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In the briefing, Sue points out that the Government’s own Equality Impact Assessment acknowledges the bedroom tax has a clearly disproportionate effect on sick and disabled claimants; she also explains that the policy fails to account for the different needs of disabled people and breaches human rights law:
Closing the Door on the Law (Parliamentary briefing on disabled people and the ‘bedroom tax’)
The transcription of the debate in the Lords’ Grant Committee is available at:
and the transcription of the debate in the Commons’ First Delegated Legislative Committee can be found at: